Lucas Bale

Award-Winning Speculative Fiction Author

Discoverability and Marketing are essentially the same thing.

As I said in my previous post, I have split my reading time equally between reading other genre-based and literary fiction, reading books on how to write and reading books on how to self-publish. I doubt anyone would disagree that writing is a craft, but just as importantly discoverability and publishing should also be considered crafts. And an enjoyable part of the process. I reckon marketing is essential to the process of being a professional writer, and author in particular. Some might not want to engage much in the marketing process – and that's fine. We all have different writing priorities. But I do because I want to earn a living from writing as much as I want to connect with people who enjoy reading my work – sadly, that's a commercial reality for me and for my family. But the resulting process can feel like being lost in smoke and mirrors. Thankfully, there are people willing to help and these three books are the map and compass I've been using to find the path I want to follow (because my GPS batteries ran out).

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I wonder how much of the concern about engaging in marketing is down to the negative connotation some slick advertising has, over the years, imbued that word with. Hugh Howey called it 'discoverability'. David Gaughran called it 'visibility'. Either way, both mean marketing in its purest sense. To me it means letting people know what you're offering in a way which resonates with the way in which they want to be told. David wrote a wonderful post on the topic, but here's a quote from him which will make anyone who is currently reticent about marketing think again:

 

"I think that if marketing is making you feel icky, you’re probably doing it wrong. If it’s too expensive, you’re definitely doing it wrong. And if it takes up too much time, guess what? You really are doing it wrong."

 

I agree. So don't engage in marketing. Engage in discoverability or enhancing your visibility. Sure, they sound like soundbites some sleazy guy in a Hugo Boss suit and slicked-back hair dreamed-up on the train into his ad agency one drizzly tuesday morning. But the reality is they describe, simply and quickly, the process of making readers aware of your work because they will want to read it if it is good enough. You're not sellingyou are making people aware something exists which they already want.

Twitter is proof that many authors have completely misunderstood the concept of visibility/discoverability. It's a great tool for engaging with readers, authors, publishers – the whole community, in fact. But I will never engage in twamming (if I've coined that phrase, I demand a huge chunk of the royalties). I loathe having my feed clogged up with authors who think that the only use for Twitter is to tweet hashtag-infested links to their book 200 times a day or five star reviews of whatever book(s) they're cross-promoting. There's no engagement, no community. It's all about them. Their book. No one else. Maybe it succeeds but God, it's ugly. And the books I am about to suggest you immerse yourselves in don't advocate that either. To me, it's quintessentially what people hate about marketing. And it's not what visibility/discoverability is about. Or, certainly, it sure as hell doesn't have to be.

Gaughran lists a host of discoverability options which are neither 'icky', expensive or time consuming – some are effective for some people, some of the time. They are worth trying:

  • Price-pulsing
  • Free-pulsing/Permafree
  • Mailing lists
  • Cheap/free intro to a series
  • Advertising on sites with a positive ROI
  • Group promotions
  • Box sets

As Gaughran says "all of this stuff is effective. None of this stuff will make you feel icky. Every one of these tools is something that you can afford in terms of time and money (within reason when it comes to advertising)." Couldn't say it better. Read the whole post – I promise you, it'll be worth it. So – to the books. It seems appropriate to start with Gaughran but I'm not going to because his is a specialist text. The best one to start with is Joanna Penn's How to Market a Book.

 

How to Market a Book, by Joanna Penn

If you can consume only one resource on the topic of marketing a book, and not getting uptight about marketing, it's Joanna Penn's website. I (not so) humbly predict her book, which is fresh enough to be current, will one day be considered seminal (if it isn't already). Why? Because it's a one-stop shop for unbiased opinions based on five years of experience in both fiction and non-fiction written by a woman who is loving every moment of the process and, importantly, loving sharing the process with others. And who is a successful fiction author in her own right.

It's divided into intuitive sections which make consuming her knowledge an uncomplicated process. Her backstory might be relevant to some, and it helps to increase the feel-good factor, but you can skip it if you want to get down to the nuts and bolts. Part 1 deals with marketing principles and is a general introduction to marketing – a kind of nutshell guide. Useful, not overwritten and succinct enough not to lose us. Part 2 is all about your book and advocates a stance I share with her, and with Chuck Wendig, Russell Blake and many other really successful self-published authors (including Hugh Howey) – you just should not publish without professional editing and a kick-ass cover. Period. Your chances of success are slashed at the knees and the reader deserves better. This is not to say that the artists among us should be prevented from doing so – God, no because freedom is our most fundamental right and it's a beautiful thing – but I don't think they should do so. Chuck was handed a pasting from some guys (and, most notably, a gal) about his blog post – I think a few too many people in different places have agendas which are not altogether up-front and well-intentioned. But that's for another day and so back to Jo Penn's book. She also covers your Amazon (or equivalent) author page as well as going into some limited detail about discoverability. Spoiler alert: Gaughran does it much better,  albeit I doubt Penn set out to compete with his book – hers is far more generalist. Parts 3 and 4 are about your platform (or lack thereof) and how to build it, as well as other areas like reviews. Finally, she deals with Launch. Overall, it's the best starting point there is. She has lots of excellent and comprehensive resources in addition and her book should be seen as a basic to intermediate text for the whole syllabus with other key areas to be the subject of further study. If you only read one book, read this one.

In addition, I asked Joanna a few questions about the book:

 

Why did you write the book now? Is there any thing significant about the timing?
 

'How to Market a Book' has been out since the middle of 2013, and I wrote it because I get hundreds of emails and tweets a week from authors whose biggest question is how to sell more books. I've been blogging for 5 years about my own journey of learning marketing and creative entrepreneurship, so the book was a way to amalgamate everything I've learned as well as lessons from others on the journey. It contains principles that won't change - like co-opetition, working with other authors in the same genre as you, as well as generosity and social karma, both essential on the web. But there are also some specifics around social media, podcasting, video and other things that may need updating in a couple of years. 

What do you think makes your book different to similar books on the market?
 

One big difference is that I write both fiction and non-fiction, and I have found huge differences in how the two are marketed, so I try to cover both. It's also my perspective, as someone who favors attraction marketing over the hardcore sales approach, content marketing with valuable and useful info over shouting 'buy my book,' and I'm an introverted author who prefers to do things in a quiet way, so that appeals to other introverted authors out there who are worried about marketing. I hope to reframe it as a positive experience that authors can make part of their lives. 

If you had to identify one thing self-pubs are doing wrong at the moment (those who are not selling enough books to meet their desires)?


For fiction, it's not writing more books. My own income only went up with 3 books, and is now starting to become respectable at 6 fiction products. Many authors are disappointed when the sales of one book aren't so great, but the lightning strike of one book success is very rare. It's best to assume it will take at least five before any real traction is gained. 

For non-fiction, it is ignoring keywords in book titles or sub-titles. Authors shouldn't call books just anything, they should research on Amazon's search bar for common keywords as well as Google keyword tools for estimating volume. This will help with sales on the retail stores as well as search traffic for associated platform.

 

Write. Publish. Repeat. by Johnny B Truant and Sean Platt

If Joanna Penn's book is the starting point for learning the process of marketing a book – the broad brush coverage allowing greater detail in your own time, Platt and Truant, the genius behind the Self-Publishing Podcast, is much more specific and targeted. It's also written by a couple of Americans rather than Penn, who is a UK author. I think this makes a difference because the US bias gives some helpful focus points. In 2013, Truant and Platt published 1.5 million words. That's no mean feat and the guiding principle behind the book – but you knew that, right? I mean, read the title. Publishing one book a year is not going to cut it – one thing I've learned across the board from reading books, blogs, forums and tweets about self-publishing is that publishing one book a year equals dead in the water. Backlist is where it's at. Not only that, Truant and Platt would argue – series are key. An episodic template, where low-priced or permafree openers funnel into the rest of series which are then packaged individually and, crucially, as a bundled offer (with as much as 30-40% off the price when bought individually) is their advice. And it makes absolute sense.

Their advice means hard work, but no matter where you look, the advice from the serious players – the ones who are succeeding in the self publishing landscape, especially as it evolves  – are the ones putting in the hours. As Russell Blake often says – as many as sixteen a day. Blake himself is a source of very useful advice. Create great books that readers will want to come back to again and again – don't just churn out words on a page; but do keep writing. But that's all old news, surely? What's special about this book? Well, it deals with the 'discoverability shift' after Amazon changed their algorithms and free became less powerful. That made a few books still on the shelves a little outdated. It deals with professionalism in the creation of a product people will love – covers, editing, beta reading and so on. Then it goes onto marketing – in particular, building your mailing list and email marketing in a non-sleazy way. This is where Platt and Truant excel. As their friend, erotic author Lexi Maxxwell opines:

 

'Readers are people and people want more from life ...

Love you readers and they will love you back ...

Listen to your readers and they will tell you how they want to be marketed to most.'

 

Smart lady. This is the critical message which comes from their (and her) marketing approach. They are such likeable guys, easy to read and get to know and their view on all this is that marketing is about connection rather than selling. Giving people the opportunity to learn about something great in a way which is natural and fun. Making friends along the way. There are a bunch of useful interviews at the end of the book with some great names but the meat and two veg are in the bones of the book. But I wanted to ask Truant a few things about the book so he took some time out for me.

 

Why did you write the book now? Is there any thing significant about the timing?

We'd just spent 2013 year working our asses off to produce as much as humanly possible and to learn as much about what works as humanly possible, and we found – largely thanks to Sean's tendency to think very intelligently in new directions – that there was much that we were doing that not a lot of indie publishers had thought to try. We'd been doing the Self Publishing Podcast for over a year as well, and listeners kept asking more and more questions about what we were doing and how they could do some of the same. The podcast is such a mishmash that we wanted to collect everything in one place where information would be easy to look up and find. So it was just a matter of writing the book when we had enough to say, and meeting the demand from people who wanted to hear it.

 

What do you think makes Write.Publish.Repeat different to similar books on the market?

More than anything, WPR emphasises a businesslike approach to writing. One of Sean's friends, who knows marketing very well, actually suggested we name it "The Fiction Formula" (although WPR does cover nonfiction, it slants toward fiction) because nobody out there was talking about how to take what is generally considered a pure art (fiction writing) and thinking like a marketer and businessperson about it. We disagreed because the only "formula" we had to offer was in the book's final name, but what he'd said was true. A lot of people want to write fiction and people do talk about the CRAFT of writing fiction, but nobody's really talking about how to merge that art with marketing. We spend a lot of time on marketing truisms about the way the real world works, such as that creating product funnels and upsells driven by strong calls to action will sell books the same as it'll sell anything else.

 

If you had to identify one thing self-pubs are doing wrong at the moment (those who are not selling enough books to meet their desires)?

The answer is in our book's title. The current world has an "I want it now!" mentality, and internet scams have done nothing to tone it down. Everyone wants results RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW, and there's no shortage of people trying to sell those people solutions that don't work for a lot of money. Success in the modern indie world is about simple math. More books + more time on market + patience + a lot of hard work = results. You don't need one book that makes $5000 per month; you can do it with 100 books that each make $50 per month. If you're not selling enough, keep writing, keep working to make your work better, keep finding new fans, and keep your ass in the chair, and keep respecting this job as the serious business that it is rather than as a hobby. A good writer who produces good books and ties them together in intelligent ways (respecting marketing) will eventually see sales and income grow. It's inevitable, all other things being equal... but it's going to take a lot more work and take a lot more time than 99% of people will be willing to put in.

 

If Penn's book is serious, Platt and Truant aim to be off the cuff and funny and they succeed. Both books have their place but, read together, they cover almost everything. In my view, there's only one more book left:

 

Let's Get Visible, by David Gaughran

I wasn't sure about this book. I'm the dark-hearted fellow who reads bad reviews first and Gaughran's book as had a couple which are pretty compelling – paraphrasing: Gaughran's fiction places lower than mine (so goes the logic) so what does he know? I'm glad I saw through the dolts who wrote that superficial claptrap. And when you read Gaughran's book, you'll see exactly why it's rubbish. Gaughran's fiction is a pretty specific genre and its readership is not huge as as consequence. He's competing against some heavyweights too so placing high on bestseller lists is not always easy. And, as Gaughran points out, being on those lists is not only what it's about. Anyway, I digress. What is great about Gaughran's book? There is no better analysis of what it takes to succeed on Amazon than this book. Period. His analysis is comprehensive, compelling and engaging. It might be said that perhaps there are systems which change or conclusions he has reached which are based on his opinion but that's pretty much what Gaughran is saying – no one outside of Amazon knows how their algorithms work. It's guesswork and no one has done more to clarify those processes than Gaughran. Category selection – how to do it and why it's important; the 'lists' (for instance Top Rated lists, Hot New Releases lists, Movers & Shakers, Popularity lists, Also Boughts, and Amazon search results) – which ones to consider important and how to approach getting on them. But most importantly:

 

"Try to stagger the news of your release over a few days. Even if that means your launch doesn’t go as high in the Best Seller list as it could in the first week, it will benefit you in the long run. The algorithms will favor a sustained run of sales—even at a lower level—above a one-off sales spike that goes higher but then dies right away."

 

How do you achieve that? Well, for more on that topic, you'll need to buy the book but the way you slow launch is crucial. There's a hell of a lot more detail but I think you should buy the book and make your own decision about it.

 

So there you have it – if you want to self-publish you could do worse than read these three and then dive into the KBoards Writers Cafe, David Gaughran's site, Jo Penn's site, Hugh Howey's blog, Chuck Wendig's blog and Russell Blake's blog. There are more of course but these will give you enough reading to make your eyes bleed and your fingertips twitch for the keyboard.

 

Many thanks to Joanna Penn and Johnny B Truant for the interviews. Joanna is the author of 'How to Market A Book' as well as 'Public Speaking for Authors, Creatives and Other Introverts.' Her site, TheCreativePenn.com has been voted one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers 3 years running, and she has been voted one of The Guardian UK Top 100 creative professionals 2013. Joanna also writes bestselling thrillers on the edge under J.F.Penn. Connect on Twitter @thecreativepenn

Johnny is one of the founders of Realm and Sands. He can be found on twitter on @JohnnyBTruant. Johnny and Sean, along with David Wright (the guy whose curmudgeonry stance on western research inspired the Unicorn Western series) host two podcasts: the horror/comedy show Better Off Undead and the Self Publishing Podcast. Both podcasts are available on iTunes and the other podcast directories, as well as on Stitcher Radio, and both are for mature audiences only. Beam, one of their (in my opinion), best works will be reviewed here shortly.

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All words copyright Lucas Bale, 2015